Jewelry Stories Are the Highlight of Museum Exhibition


On the round metal brooch a series of red dots form a desert flower — but the red dots are map pins, similar to the digital ones used by the nonprofit organization Humane Borders to mark its maps of the U.S.-Mexico border where the bodies of migrants have been found.

This is Julia Turner’s “Three Days Walking,” a 2013 brooch crafted in the style of Victorian mourning jewelry that is on display at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, part of the museum’s show “45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now.”

The exhibition draws from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 1,000 pieces of contemporary jewelry. It places each piece in narrative context, displaying bracelets and brooches and necklaces alongside eye-popping, colorful labels that describe their place within the history of design and their artists’ practices. The exhibition is scheduled to run until April 10, though museum officials have said they are likely to retain it in some form.

“I really wanted to change the way you might view jewelry,” said Barbara Paris Gifford, the exhibition’s curator. “You might think of it as something only used to beautify what you’re wearing, like a fastened stone or a platinum necklace, and not necessarily as a medium like sculpture or painting. There’s a real human truth that these artists want to communicate using jewelry.”

The show includes pieces like Ms. Turner’s, which are explicitly political in nature. (Another such example is William Clark’s 1969 “Police State Badge,” which turns a police badge into protest art.) The exhibition also emphasizes jewelry made with unusual materials: paper earrings from the 1960s, and forward-thinking body-monitoring jewelry designed by Mary Ann Scherr in the 1970s, inspired by the devices worn by astronauts.

It also includes more personal pieces, like MJ Tyson’s metalwork, which incorporates discarded materials from her childhood, including her CD-playing Discman, old necklaces and a girl scout pin.

“She became frustrated with all these leftover, sentimental pieces that we all have,” Ms. Gifford said. “Everybody has a jewelry drawer filled with things from childhood that they can’t bring themselves to throw away, but they don’t wear it either, so it’s just taking up space. In this ethos of recycling and reuse, Tyson took all these different pieces she had and melted them down to make a new piece of jewelry.”

In one piece, titled “ESP,” a viewer can still see the outlines of the partly melted Discman. Like many of the pieces on display in the exhibition, it tells a story in metal.